OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (ABP) – Two Baptist ethicists released an open letter Sept. 19 opposing “Christian Zionism” and its effect on U.S. policy toward Israel.
As Palestinian leaders prepared to make a unilateral declaration of statehood before the United Nations — expected to be opposed by the United States — professors David Gushee and Glen Stassen called out the movement in evangelical Christianity that believes the Bible plots boundaries that by divine right belong to Israel.
Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, and Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary who formerly taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued a 3,500-word treatise challenging Christian Zionism on theological, moral and security grounds.
Gushee, a columnist for Associated Baptist Press, and Stassen are co-authors of Kingdom Ethics, published in 2003 by InterVarsity Press and board members of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which distributed their letter. This summer they took 50 Fuller Seminary students to visit the Occupied Territories, where they witnessed firsthand how Israeli settlements are eating away at territory designated as part of a future Palestinian state.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, we wish to claim here that the prevailing version of American Christian Zionism — that is, your belief system — underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes U.S. policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation’s commitment to universal human rights,” the professors said. “In all of these, American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin.”
Gushee and Stassen said they believe Christian Zionists have good intentions, but their theology is wrong. They suggested that the Promised Land in the Old Testament is not the same thing as the modern state of Israel and cited numerous Bible verses in which God’s covenant is conditional on Israel’s obedience.
“At a theological level, we are claiming that even if one accepts a.) a divine promise of land to the Jewish people as recorded in Scripture, b.) a belief that this promise extends even to this day, and c.) the modern state of Israel as, in part, God’s gracious fulfillment of this promise, one must also say d.) the Bible, in the prophetic writings, also teaches that persistent injustice on the part of Israel has evoked, and still can bring, God’s judgment, which can extend even to war and exile,” they wrote. “Israel’s remaining in the land depends on Israel’s now doing justice to Palestinians and making peace with its Arab neighbors that surround Israel.”
“Indeed, Jesus, as prophet and Savior, also prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed because they did not know the practices that make for peace (Luke 19:41-44),” they continued. “And Jerusalem was destroyed, 40 years later. Do you not fear that it could happen again? Does not your love of Israel make you want to do all you can to prevent that from happening? And yet your actions actually make it more likely to happen!”
Gushee and Stassen described a Holy Land on a “precipice” of resentment that could eventually lead to war, and if it happens American Christians will be partly to blame.
“We genuinely fear that someday someone or some nation inflamed with resentment at the seemingly eternal Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people will ‘make your land desolate so no one can live in it’ (Jeremiah 6:8),” they said. “That sounds like a nuclear bomb.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.